Woodlands was a Georgian villa built for businessman John Julius Angerstein in 1774, which once had extensive grounds with a lake, ice-house and fine conservatory. Angerstein was a great patron of the arts and his Old Masters collection formed the nucleus of the National Gallery. Woodlands remained in his family until 1876 but the estate was largely dispersed in the early C20th. The house was a convent after WWI until 1967 and in 1972 was acquired by Greenwich Council, with a small part of the original grounds. It became an art gallery and local studies centre but later closed and is now Greenwich Steiner School, which moved here in 2008. Adjacent is Mycenae House, originally built in 1931-33 for the convent, which has been run as a Community Centre by an independent charity since 1994, set in pleasant gardens.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/05/2011
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Woodlands was a Georgian villa built in 1774 by G Gibson Jnr for John Julius Angerstein, who was possibly an illegitimate son of the Empress of Russia and a merchant, Poulett Thomson. He was born in 1735 and named after the German doctor who delivered and adopted him; he came to England in 1750 to serve as an apprentice in his father's house. A successful businessman who was a Lloyds underwriter at the age of 21, Angerstein became a patron and friend of artists including JMW Turner, landscape painter Sir Joseph Farington and Sir Thomas Lawrence. His collection of Old Masters was to form the nucleus of the National Gallery after his death in 1823. Guests at Woodlands included Dr Johnson, David Garrick, Joshua Reynolds, George III, Princess Caroline and Fanny Burney. In 1820 Queen Caroline reputedly wanted to rent the house during the time of her trial. Woodlands House remained in the family until 1876 and was then sold by John Julius' grandson and the estate was dispersed by the early C20th. The extensive grounds had contained a lake and an ice house, with a fine conservatory that had a flagged walk, seats and which was heated by stoves in winter. It was renowned for 'forcing fruits of all descriptions and the choicest collection of the best grown conservatory plants that we ever beheld, many of which flowered there for the first time in this country'.
At the end of WWI Woodlands was unoccupied and was then sold to The Little Sisters of the Assumption, a Catholic Noviate Order, and used as a convent. Land near the house was sold by the Trustees and enabled the building of the adjacent Noviate House, a purpose-built convent that opened in 1933. The Order finally relocated to Paddington in 1967 and local resident and historian Cyril Fry then convinced Greenwich Council to purchase both Woodlands and the Noviate House, in order to preserve them from development. As a result Noviate House was purchased in 1968 and converted into Kidbrooke House Community Centre to replace the original Kidbrooke House that was demolished when the Sun in the Sands roundabout on Shooters Hill was constructed.
Woodlands was purchased by Greenwich Council in 1972 and opened as Woodlands Art Gallery. Also used as Greenwich Local Studies Library, it was set in part of the former garden, albeit much reduced in size. This walled garden comprised a lawn with island shrub beds, several specimen trees and a notable row of mature London planes on a bank. The Art Gallery and Local Studies Centre were later closed, the latter moving to the former Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. Woodlands was eventually purchased by the Greenwich Steiner School Initiative, which had been established in St George's Church nearby since 1999. The school moved to Woodlands as its main site in 2008. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was an Austrian philosopher whose ideas have influenced many spheres of life including science and mathematics, politics, drama, agriculture (bio-dynamic farming) and the arts. His theories on education, based on child development, have been used in Steiner Waldorf schools for almost 100 years. Woodlands was carefully remodelled to serve the school's needs and the Offsted Report of 2010 praised the resulting 'learning environment which combines beauty and function while retaining the integrity of this historical building [. . . ] The school's outdoor play space has attractive areas for recreation and well-used raised beds for gardening'.
Kidbrooke House was renamed Mycenae House in 1994 when it was taken over by an independent charity, the Vanbrugh Community Association, which continues to run it as a community centre, itself set in pleasant grounds.
Booklet on history of Woodlands, LB Greenwich (n.d.); Beryl Platts 'A History of Greenwich' 2nd ed. (Procter Press), 1986; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993)